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December 15, 2019

The GDA’s demands


December 15, 2019

The need for a credible alternative in Sindh’s political spectrum continues to disappoint most aspirants of change. Political power in Sindh centers around the landed aristocracy, spiritual shrines serving the politico-economic interests of the influential class, the supposedly new waves which were to liberate society and people with old shackles chained to them. Urban Sindh’s vote bank is now divided among three main parties – the PTI, MQM and the PPP.

The Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) has fought two elections jointly, without much success. Their seats in both the National Assembly and the Sindh Assembly shrank, vote bank went down, and even the number of parties which were part of the alliance decreased. But the GDA is still out there. It is known most for its vocal and smart spokesperson Ayaz Latif Palijo, who heads his own small party, the Qaumi Awami Tehreek (QAT). Ayaz suffered a setback when the party’s general secretary resigned and joined the PML-N in 2018.

Ayaz Palijo does not belong to the political oligarchy of the GDA; his orientation and grooming is in complete contrast to the rest of the alliance. Many have questioned his wisdom to continue to be associated with the GDA. Does he gain political mileage for being in the alliance, or does he lose his image of a left-leaning progressive activist by aligning with some of the most regressive forces in Sindh’s political scene, those who stabbed democratically elected governments in the back at the behest of the powerful.

Sindh’s civil society and intelligentsia, who see the landed aristocracy and political pirs as far more dangerous to the interests of Sindh than the PPP, still supported Ayaz Palijo in both his elections bids, believing that if he could win the provincial assembly seat from Qasim Abad, Hyderabad, he would be a powerful voice in the Sindh Assembly.

Recently, the key leadership of the GDA held a meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan and presented a 15-point charter of demands, which broadly can be characterized as defending the interests of peasants, growers, minorities and assuring the rightful share of jobs in federal government departments.

The GDA’s charter of demands presents the PTI government an opportunity to pay some attention to the serious problems that common people face in Sindh – for example, Sindh’s share in federal ministry jobs. Many times in the past, the Senate has raised these issues, but we have not come across any official data on the constitutional ratio of jobs in accordance with provincial population.

Without presenting concrete data or a redressal framework, the GDA presented a generic demand. The alliance wants the federal government to transfer income from natural resources produced from Sindh including oil and gas. However, Sindh’s long-standing demand has been to abolish federal ministries which deal with natural resources constitutionally owned by the provinces. For instance, after the 18th Amendment provinces own all natural resources so what’s the point of keeping up federal control and management of these resources? These ministries still continue to take decisions on resources which do not belong to the federal government.

In the backdrop of the recent HIV outbreak in Larkana, the GDA demanded the federal government’s intervention to help authorities save the lives of the hundreds of children who are infected. The HIV outbreak was reported by major media in Western countries, but one sees little action on the part of the federal government.

One must not forget that all of the federal government’s financial resources come from people living in provinces, so it needs to invest back in the people. So far, it has shown little concern and action; rather, there has been a steady trend of a declining federal government role in the development of under-developed areas and in emergency situations like the one in Larkana. The GDA rightly asked for the PM’s Ehsaas Program to cover the HIV outbreak victims.

Pakistan’s mainstream media paid little heed to these long-standing grievances of the province. Ayaz himself would have pushed the GDA to present these demands. With only two members in the National Assembly, the GDA does not have much leverage with the current coalition government. So was it an exercise in futility or will it produce some results? That is yet to be seen.

The GDA has remained a vocal critic of the PPP, and avoids criticizing the federal government of its lack of interests in Sindh. For example, the GDA did not utter a word on how much the new government in Islamabad allocated for development in Sindh or it did not question the distribution of the federal development budget. The GDA charter of demands disappointed many in Sindh for not including the NFC Award in its agenda, as the current government continues to ignore its constitutional obligation to hold a meeting of the NFC.

Not a word was reported by the media on the reaction from Imran Khan on the charter of demands, a disappointing reflection on how serious the top leadership of the country is in these extremely challenging times. There has been no follow-up meeting or formation of committee to look after the charter of demands was made.

If the center fails to pay attention to the charter of demands, the GDA will keep losing relevance to its voters because they see the alliance as partners with the federal government, gaining almost nothing in exchange of its support to the PTI coalition.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter @mushrajpar

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